By the time Purim begins at sundown on March 16, Sunflower Bakery in Rockville expects to have sold more than 60,000 hamantashen.
They’ve been at it since January, said chef Liz Hutter, culinary director of the nonprofit that offers skilled job training and employment opportunities in the baking and hospitality industries for adults with learning differences.
“Holidays are really enriching to their education and I’m very proud of everything they are able to accomplish,” Hutter said. “It can be pretty overwhelming, but students get so much out of the experience. It’s very gratifying to see them work so hard and be able to experience what it’s really like to work in a busy production.”
Hamantashen are as loved as their namesake — the scheming, genocidal Haman from the Purim story in the Book of Esther — is hated. Last year, Sunflower had so many orders that they ran out of some flavors, said Hutter. The bakery ships orders and last Purim, pandemic-wary customers surprised Sunflower.
“The shipping can overwhelm us. Last year we got 550 shipping orders, when we were expecting 300. And it was a week before the holiday,” she said.
Hutter had to make some quick decisions, including pulling some flavors off of their website — eighty-sixing them, as she called it. As they caught up with the orders, the bakery put the flavors back on the website.
“We had to focus on the orders we had, and not the potential orders. So we had to eighty-six some of the flavors that we knew were just going to distract us from the hamantashen we actually needed to make,” she said.
Making hamantashen is a team effort, she said. One student makes the dough in the bakery’s large mixing bowls; then two roll it into a long roll. Several students press the dough into shape. The hamantashen are laid onto large baking sheets and stored in a freezer until it’s time to pop them into the oven to bake.
Hutter said apricot has been the most popular hamantashen flavor in the 11 years she has worked at the bakery. Raspberry is a close second, with the two flavors tying in popularity on occasion.
In the beginning, Sunflower baked four flavors: chocolate, apricot, raspberry and poppy seed. Since then, Hutter has added others, including chocolate-dipped hamantashen, gluten-free hamantashen and several specialty flavors.
Hutter said the inspiration for the bakery’s specialty flavors came from brainstorming ways to repurpose the other baked goods the Sunflower Bakery produces.
“Whenever a chef is trying to come up with ideas for a new product, they’re trying to incorporate things that they already make. You don’t want to always make everything from scratch,” she explained. “You’re just trying to see what you can do with what you have and then streamline it into your processes without having to cause too much of an uproar.”
One thing that Hutter thinks might cause an uproar is savory hamantashen. She said she’d like to try them out, but said the idea isn’t feasible. Sugar-free and vegan hamantashen are a ways away, too.
“I like the idea, I just don’t think we are in the place now. It’s definitely in the future though,” she said.
The last day to order hamantashen in time for Purim is March 10. They can also be purchased in person at Sunflower’s locations in Rockville and North Bethesda.
Hutter said that Sunflower Bakery will keep selling hamantashen for a month after Purim — even longer depending on demand.